Andrew Johns ‘sick’ over faltering Blues
NSW just doesn't get it. Queensland does. Simple.
"It" refers to the intangibles that separate Origin contenders from Origin pretenders. Despite a comprehensive win in Game 1, NSW has been pretending again in 2017.
That's the view of Blues legend Andrew Johns, who looked a shattered man as he analysed Queensland's 22-6 win at Suncorp Stadium that secured the Origin shield for the 11th time in 12 years.
Johns launched a scathing attack on the Blues after their Game 2 loss, accusing Laurie Daley's men of playing "dumb" football. In the aftermath the players' words rejected that accusation but on Wednesday night, their actions didn't.
While his spray three weeks ago will have hurt, this time Johns' words seemed to carry even more weight. He wasn't just criticising the performance, he was lamenting the culture and the attitude of the NSW players, saying the Blues just don't understand what it means to play Origin footy.
"I feel sick at the moment. It's just so hard to watch," Johns said on Channel Nine. "You've got to applaud Queensland, but I still don't think NSW get it. Just really don't get it.
"There were times there where the ball was thrown back inside and we just switched off. You think, 'Well if the ball goes past you, my job is done.' You can't give up. You can't give up on it in Origin footy and that's what we have to get the mentality of.
"It's not about set plays and fancy plays. Cooper Cronk spoke about will and desire. That's what wins these games.
"I looked at the teams on paper before and I think NSW, on paper, had a much stronger team. I thought they had a much stronger forward pack but the game isn't played on paper."
This lack of Origin maturity was most evident when props Aaron Woods and Andrew Fifita were caught walking in defence, failing to close a gap on the inside when an unexpected offload put Jarrod Wallace away for the matchwinning try.
An exasperated Johns spoke with his head down. His mood reflected that of every NSW supporter forced to watch yet another series start with so much promise but end in tears.
Asked by Paul Vautin if he would consider taking up the NSW coaching gig, Johns was unable to answer.
"I don't know Fatty," Johns said. "I don't know. I can't answer that at the moment. I don't know.
"I don't know if I need that pressure in my life, if I'm going to be honest."
Looking at Laurie Daley - who's lost four of his five series in charge - you can understand why Johns would be reluctant to swap his Channel Nine microphone for a clipboard.
Former NSW coach Phil Gould also found the loss tough to stomach. He said a lack of leadership was haunting NSW.
"I don't think this is about coaching. I don't think it is about the selection room. I think it is a thing that we've never done over the last 10 or 11 years and I keep saying it every time we lose, we just haven't cultivated a leadership group that we can trust to get the job done," Gould said.
"That's the difference between us and Queensland at the moment. They have a leadership group where success has gone to success and these debut players come in and they just know when they look across the room and see Cameron Smith and see Cooper Cronk they will be OK."
Gould also said NSW played like a club side. It wasn't meant as an insult, rather an honest assessment of the gulf in class between the two states and a pointer towards how much more education the Blues need when it comes to winning in the interstate cauldron.
"It is again one of the criticisms that we tend to play more like a club team than an Origin team," Gould said. "I think as soon as I say that, you three blokes (Johns, Vautin and Wally Lewis) start to nod because you know Origin football is different to club football. The things that win these games or lose these games are magnified far greater than what they are in club football.
"That's why this Origin mentality that Queensland has in the leadership group that brings these young fellas in and shows them the way to go and leads them the way they do makes a big difference.
"Andrew is right when he says, 'We haven't got it'. NSW hasn't got it for a long time. There is plenty of talent in our individuals, but as a group, there's no glue to hold them together in the tough times."